Why We Need to Stop Being a Generation of Mean Girls

I prematurely came out of my hibernation at Parental Towers last week in an attempt to head up to Inverness for the annual writer’s retreat to Moniach Mhor – one of my absolute favourite places in the world.

I wasn’t sure I would be well enough to attend, and in hindsight – supported by the fact that I had to fly back home a couple of days into the holiday (I can’t even begin to talk about this as heartbroken is an understatement) because I felt like death – I was still in a pretty ropey state.

So, essentially, I went on holiday for just over 24 hours. One day, I am pretty sure that this will be funny.

“Yes but if you’d taken that train I booked for you to come to London Euston when we were in Café Rene, that would have been the winner,” my friend joked, recalling the time we got drunk in her old workplace in Gloucester, organised a time for me to go visit her, and booked a train which had me staying in London for a grand total of 10 minutes.

I laughed. It hurts to laugh.

“It’s the universe telling me I’ve had far too many holidays this last twelve months,” I suggested. “I am being punished.”

“That’s the spirit,” she said. “Anyway, you aren’t a full adult until you’ve had a weird sustained medical condition. It’s a 30 year olds rite of passage!”

As mentioned in my previous blog post, I have been struggling with the symptoms this illness – or, more precisely, my unbelievably weak and traitorous immune system’s reaction to a very common mild virus (basically, my immune system is a colossal, twattish over reactor) – has afflicted upon my face. I feel ravaged, and not in a good way. The only thing I can do is relax, dose myself up, and wait this thing out like a stealthy ninja.

But less about my face, and my illness, it’s already taken up enough money, thinking time and blog space.

What I really want to talk about is that feeling, when all eyes are on you. When people smirk or double take, or just stare at you (FYI, people, this behaviour is RUDE) like they think it’s acceptable to gawk at a stranger. I remember waiting at Birmingham New Street station sometime last week for a train back Up North. I felt disorientated, like I’d just woken up from a couple of week’s kip to find the outside world too fast paced, too loud, too much. As I boarded the Virgin train to Stockport, I milled around the aisle for a while, looking for a decent seat, and it’s safe to say that, not in a remotely arrogant manner, eyes were on me.

A few weeks ago, my friend, Alex, sent me an article she thought might be of interest during my retreat from the world. “Shock horror,” she typed. “Women are more spiteful towards other women than men!”

I opened the BBC News link to see the headline

50% of misogynistic tweets from women.

For most of us, this statistic may seem somewhat surprising. When we think of the word ‘misogynistic’ we immediately associate such behaviour with men. After all, the definition of ‘misogynistic’ is someone “strongly prejudiced against women” so realistically it must only be men that we are talking about here. Why would we be prejudiced against ourselves?

We would never, for a moment, think that us females would attack each other so vehemently, viciously and misguidedly. After all, we’re all fighting the good fight, right? We’ve got each other’s backs?

But we listen to Beyoncé. We read feminist columns about the woes of internet dating and how the patriarchy is behind the notion of Brazilian waxing. We are smart. Educated. We are vocal about the injustices women wrangle with every day. We are furious about the lack of equal pay. About the many different roles we are supposed to fill. We are aware of the pressures of being a woman – and those of being a man. We are sick and tired of being targeted by airbrushed celebrities, unrealistic body images, lack of sexual freedom, lack of control of our bodies, taxes on periods, archaic rules where we have to wear high heels to work, or a face full or make up, or our hair in a certain fashion. Our girl mates are the most important people in our lives and for someone to speak against them would provoke murderous tendencies.

We know what we are supposed to think and say about other women because we are women.

And yet, a recent study by think tank seems to tell a different story. Over a three-week period it found evidence of large-scale misogyny, with 6,500 unique users targeted by 10,000 abusive tweets in the UK alone.

The research comes as UK MPs – Yvette Cooper, Maria Miller, Stella Creasy, Jess Philips – alongside former Liberal Democrat minister Jo Swinson, launch their Reclaim the Internet campaign, in response to growing public concern about the impact of hate speech and abuse on social media.

Launching the campaign, Ms Cooper told the BBC:

“The truth is nobody knows what the best answers are. There is more when there is criminal abuse, for example rape threats, that the police should be doing but what is the responsibility of everyone else? What more should social media platforms be doing?” She said that the campaign was an opportunity for the public to “put forward their proposals and demands for the changes we want to see.”

The study also looked at international tweets and found more than 200,000 aggressive tweets using the words, “slut” and “whore”, were sent to 80,000 people over the same three weeks. 200,000!

Ok, so far so Internet Trolls, right? Well….

“The common sense approach to posting comments on social networks would be to never say anything online that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face but that simple rule seems to be regularly ignored,” the article continues. “Being able to post anonymously helps and, in many ways, social networks have become the modern day equivalent of a natter over the garden fence or a gathering on the village green – but on a global scale. And just as in the old gossip circles of old, there will be people whose comments are meaner or more aggressive than the rest, so that is amplified online. And now the voices of the trolls can be heard and they can pick victims – generally people they don’t know – pretty much at random.”

Abuse on social networks is not new and neither is the revelation that women contribute to the problem. A 2014 study from cosmetics firm Dove found that over five million negative tweets were posted about beauty and body image. Four out of five were sent by women.

That’s right. Four out of five negative tweets about other women were sent by women.

It’s depressing isn’t it? That in this day and age when we are all so vocal about women’s rights, about standing up for one another and dispelling myths of sexuality, gender and conventional beauty, this sort of bullying and cruelty still exists and is deemed acceptable, or just part of online life.

Just because we type nasty comments about a celebrity, or a person we don’t know, doesn’t make it right. Anonymity does not make it okay to be cruel or derogatory.

How is it acceptable to call someone a whore, or a slut, or a bitch? Would you call them that to their face? Would you walk right up to them, look them in the eye and say you didn’t like their outfit, or their boyfriend, or their thighs, or laugh at their ailments? Would you say it to your best friends? Your sister? Your mother? Would you want someone to target you in such a manner?

Just because we label it as ‘gossip’ about strangers or just the way the internet works, does not make it right. It does not make it socially acceptable. For me, it’s right up there with the whole trashy gossip magazines with their circle of shame and calculated attacks on female (always female) celebrities with regards to the way they look, or the way they dress. It should be left in the 90s along with platform boots, Hooch, and crop tops emblazoned with the word ‘Babe.’

Some may argue that if you put yourself in the public eye, or in the case of social media on a public forum, you are actively making what you say, and your pictures, public. As true as that statement may be, why does it then give us the right to pull apart these people? To call them names, send them death and rape threats, urge them to kill themselves. The whole thing disgusts me.

And sure, I am an advocate for freedom of speech. I believe policing social media would be a difficult thing to do and that many people would be opposed to such stringency. However, I am also against the bullying of young women – girls – to the point of self-hatred, self harm, or, tragically, even suicide.

Its madness that we aren’t sticking up for each other, that we haven’t quite gotten over the need to knock each other down. It puts me in mind of that iconic line from Mean Girls (I am all heart eyes for Tina Fey) “If you keep calling each other sluts and whores, you make it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores.”

Just sayin.

Right, I’m getting down off my soap box and back on my Mum’s sofa for a kip.

For more information about the #reclaimtheinternet project click here. The forum is a place to discuss the big ideas on how we ‘Reclaim the Internet’ for everyone.

“The internet must be a forum for freedom of speech. But that means that every voice should matter – and that includes on this forum.”







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